Three Jewish Albums Channel the Black Music Experience

Zion80, Alon Nechustan and New Zion Trio Bring the Noise

Confusing Fusion: Jon Madof and Zion80 blends Hasidic chants with sounds of the African diaspora.
Courtesy of Jon Madof
Confusing Fusion: Jon Madof and Zion80 blends Hasidic chants with sounds of the African diaspora.

By Jake Marmer

Published June 21, 2013, issue of June 28, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Perhaps the story of the great Jewish music in America is truly that of its encounter with African-American music. Three terrific new albums traverse the traditions of Afrobeat, jazz and reggae, while at the same time staying informed — in very different ways — by music more traditionally associated with the Jewish sound.

That two of the three projects incorporate the word “Zion” in their respective band names signifies an ethnic connection that isn’t merely musical, but perhaps mythic, as well, evoking less a physical locale than a dream, hope, perhaps even utopia, created through music.

— Jake Marmer

Jon Madof

Zion80

Tzadik Records, $14.99

Some bands take years to cook up an album. Zion80 rocketed — from its premiere in winter 2011, to extended residencies at New York’s jazz club The Stone, to a full-blown album release — in less than a year and a half. That’s a testimony to the great synergy of the 13-piece band which joins music of Fela Kuti and Shlomo Carlebach. Zion80 is world music in its truest sense. Carlebach brought the Hasidic chants, ritualistic songs and cantorial interludes of Jewish Eastern Europe into frameworks of American folk; Kuti summoned the sounds of the African diaspora into traditional Nigerian music.

Seeing Zion80 live, I remember wondering how this energy could retain itself in a recording. Because the band is staffed with some of New York’s finest improvisers, the air of constant surprise seemed crucial to the musical experience. Besides, the band’s leader and founder, Jon Madof, is also its conductor, and during live shows, he directs his ensemble, altering its course as the performance unfolds. And just as his mode of conducting has little in common with conducting in traditional Western music, the dynamics within the band are vastly different from those of a traditional orchestra.

Obviously Madof’s conducting is something the album listener cannot experience, yet the recorded tracks reveal Madof’s kaleidoscopic arrangements. Hearing one composition’s bridge performed in a duo that suddenly swells into a quartet and then into a 13-instrument powerhouse is breathtaking. From too-good-to-be-true wedding band to avant-garde troupe to ritualistic collective, the band can morph and soak you in hot, gorgeous rhythms.

Alon Nechushtan

Ritual Fire

Between the Lines, $16.32

Upon winning last year’s Independent Music Award for best jazz album, Israeli-born pianist Alon Nechushtan cited as his influences J. S. Bach, Duke Ellington and Charlie Chaplin. To these three, listeners of Nechushtan’s latest release, “Ritual Fire” could add another person: the experimental American painter Jackson Pollock, whose term “action suite” Nechushtan borrows to explain the workings of the new album. The album is largely free-form, with melodic elements that erupt into a larger conceptual whole.

The record’s highlight is the special appearance by clarinetist Harold Rubin— a legendary figure of the Israeli art scene. Now in his 80s, Rubin is also known for his work as a painter, poet and architect. A native of Johannesburg, he developed his jazz chops by collaborating with African musicians. In the 1960s, the South African government threatened Rubin with charges of blasphemy when he painted a subversive depiction of Jesus Christ. Rubin then escaped to Israel.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.